The four books below all connect to "collapse" or "decline" in one way or another. They thus all fit into a narrative that explores both the rise and fall of civilisations - with an emphasis on the latter (e.g. much in line with Tainter's "The collapse of complex societies" from 1988).
Despite nominally reading these books in November, I actually started to read one of the books below a year ago but decided not to bring it with me on my half-year long sabbatical. I started to read another book in May - but had to put it aside in order to read other books that would help me prepare for the courses I gave this past autumn. I usually choose to read three or four books in a row that are topically or thematically related to one another. Despite two "false starts" I finally read the brunt of the books below back in November.
I regularly write about books that I have read and here is the previous blog post. I would say there are large number of particularly interesting quotes from these four books further below in this blog post. Each quote is symbolised with an asterisk, e.g. the more asterisks a book has, the more quotes you will find from that book further down in this blog post.
*********** I have read a number of books by John Michael Greer and also written about them on this blog. The latest was "The wealth of nature" which I read back in May 2013. His new (2014) book is "Decline and fall: The end of empire and the future of democracy in 21st century America".
Greer is as always an exquisite writer and a great pedagogue. I can easily believe that even people who do not necessarily agree with him (i.e. the vast majority of people) could still be swayed by his arguments and his writing. If I (as a discerning academic) have but one complaint then I would say that he hasn't read up enough to ground and relate his thinking to what others (e.g. researchers) have written. Still, based on the bibliography, this is probably his most "well-researched" book and I would also say that his thinking is clearer, his writing better, and the issues he discusses are more pertinent that >95% of all academic output. His books can be hard to read not because they are difficult to read, but because the ideas clash with most of what we all read elsewhere (e.g. "don't rock the boat", "it's just a bump in the road" and "recovery is just around the corner").
His basic assumption is that America (the US) is an Empire that extracts wealth and resources from the rest of the world (and through fossil energy sources also from the past to the present). Empires have their natural cycles though and when an empire's "wealth pump" has ran its vassal states (and the oil wells) dry, things start to fall apart also at the center. I haven't read George Packer's much talked-about "The unwinding: Thirty years of American decline" but imagine that these two books go well together. This is however not really something we like to think or talk about so you can expect more or less everyone to reassure each other that things are just fine for as long as possible. Which, according to Greer, is what we've been doing for the last couple of decades. Sooner or later a number of stark realities will however catch up with us, as these things eventually do, and then we'll suffer all the more for not having prepared adequately (or to be honest - hardly at all):
"sooner or later, our collective conversation will shift from how America can maintain perpetual growth to how America can hold onto what it has, then to how America can recover some of that it lost, and from there to figuring out how America ... can get by in the harsh new world that grew up around it while nobody was looking. It's a normal process in an age of decline"
Since I read this book almost 8 months ago, I don't have the contents of the book at the top of my mind but please have a look at the quotes below for some vintage Greer!
Since I read this book almost 8 months ago, I don't have the contents of the book at the top of my mind but please have a look at the quotes below for some vintage Greer!
*************** Dmitry Orlov's book "The five stages of collapse: Survivor's toolkit" (2013) builds on ideas he has written about in his blog. Do note the black swan swimming calmly in the foreground on the cover! It is of course a wink to Taleb's book The black swan and it signifies a totally unexpected game-changer - Orlov's "collapse" refers to the rug being violently pulled away from under your feet. But in a "best-case" collapse scenario, only the financial system breaks down while the commercial systems stays in place. If also the commercial system breaks down, then hopefully the political system (e.g. the nation-state) will stay in place and stop the fall. The former happened in Iceland in 2008 while the latter happened in Russia in 1990s. When also the political systems breaks down, the state negates on its responsibilities and we can for example see the emergence of clans and extended families taking increased responsibility for its members (Orlov's case study are the Afghan Pashtun tribal areas but other "ungoverned" areas such as Somalia are also possible examples). The book then gets grimmer. When also the social system breaks down ("social collapse") and especially the cultural system breaks down ("cultural collapse") we basically see not just the end of civilisation but also the end of caring about even one's own children, one's partner or one's parents. Orlov's case study of cultural collapse is almost exclusively based on anthropologist Colin Turnbull's 1960's study and his controversial 1972 book "The mountain people" about the shattered Ik tribe in northern Uganda. From the back of Orlov's book:
"When thinking about political paralysis, looming resource shortages and a rapidly changing climate, many of us can do no better than imagine a future that is just less of the same. But it is during such periods of profound disruption that sweeping cultural change becomes inevitable. In The Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov posits a taxonomy of collapse, suggesting that if the first three stages (financial, commercial and political) are met with the appropriate personal and social transformations, then the worst consequences of social and cultural collapse can be avoided."
I have written about Orlov's previous book "Reinventing collapse" on another blog and I do unfortunately have to say that the previous book was much better than "The five stages of collapse". While Orlov obviously is a smart guy with an acerbic pen and a cynical-but-amusing outlook on life (see the quotes further below), I kind of get the feeling that he's beginning to loose his grip if not on reality then at least as an author. While I don't require books I read to be "academic", parts of this book builds on his own or others' analysis of trends and events, but, other parts of the book just feel like long histories or rants that are choke full with Orlov's own and highly personal opinions about both this and that. It gets stale after a while.
*********** "Not the future we ordered: Peak oil, psychology, and the myth of progress" (2013) is the second book by John Michael Greer in this blog post. The book is very short (140 pages) and slick. Greer's writing is excellent as usual. While all other books I have read by Greer treat "the world out there", this book instead treats "the inner world", i.e. our beliefs and our behaviours. The book more specifically discusses why is it so hard to change the way we think as individuals and as a society in the face of peak oil, looming energy crisis, climate change etc. There are many stumbling blocks blocking our way to thinking clearly and acting on these threats and Greer does an excellent job of examining the cultural waters we swim in and that we take for granted ("I don't know who discovered water, but it wasn't a fish").
Greer uses the concept of a "civil religion", i.e. "a body of beliefs, practices, and symbols expressing values that have no reference to supernatural beings but are considered sacred by the community" to discuss our relationship to the concept (or myth in Greer's opinion) of progress. Our modern societies blindly believe that (technological and economic) "progress" is bound to happen also in the future. Greer dissects this belief and makes mincemeat out of it. The book is excellent and I highly recommend it!
In the first half of this hefty (500+ pages long) book, Gatti travels to west Africa to make the very same journey through Africa and north to Libya that so many others have done before him. This is the route African slaves travelled both in the past in the modern present. What makes these people leave their families and communities behind to risk everything for the chance to go to Europe? Where we see desperate, weak refugees, Gatti sees the flower of a generation, the best and the boldest set out in the search of riches, or at least of dignity and opportunities in Europe. They flee dismal prospects and rampant corruption in the hope of a life of dignity through hard work despite the chances that they will perish in the desert or in the sea. He compares them to the people who left Europe for America 100 years ago several times. After having been blackmailed, squeezed, cheated and not seldom physically abused, some do make it over to Europe - a Europe that is far from what they dream of.
Besides the journey across Africa, Gatti has also pretended to be an Afghani immigrant in order to see the refugee camp on the Italian island Lampedusa from the inside as well as worked in a "chain gang" of agricultural labourers on the Italian countryside. Gatti's conclusion is that these unsung heroes are the very slaves of our time. It is a shocking book since it placed boundless poverty and ruthless exploitation right in the heart of Europe. What if one of the pillars of modern Europe is its role as a modern slave camp, or at least a corrupt overseer willingly looking the other way to get cheap labor to the agricultural and building sectors? When Gatti researched his book 10 years ago, most of the immigrants were black Africans. Today I understand that most of the people crossing the Mediterranean in small overloaded dinghies are Arab refugees (for example from Syria). I don't know exactly how that changes the situation Gatti writes about but I'm sure it does in some ways.
One of the problems with the whole sordid business of smuggling people is that it is so very profitable to anyone ruthless enough to take part of it. Gatti's book is important but it is also depressing. Have we not come further than in a Europe of the 21st century? The closest Swedish equivalent to the situation and conditions Gatti describes are the annual hopeful berry-pickers who are "imported" from south-east Asia, but in reality often find themselves in situations that are not too far away from slavery.
"The first explorers to venture outwards from Europe into the wider world encountered civilizations that were far wealthier than anything back home ... A few centuries later, at the zenith of Europe's age of empire, China, India, and Mexico ranked among the world's poorest nations, while England, which had been a soggy backwater on the fringes of Europe known mostly for codfish and wool, was one of its richest. In 1600, for example, India accounted for an estimated 24 percent of the word's gross domestic product, while all of Britain managed around 3 percent.
the 5 percent of humanity that lives in the United States of America uses around a quarter of the world's energy and roughly a third of its raw materials and industrial product. This disproportionate share of the world's wealth doesn't come to us because the rest of the world doesn't was such things.
It's considered distinctly impolite to suggest that the real reason behind the disparity is related to the fact that the United States has more than five hundred military bases on other nations' territories, and spends on its armed forces every year roughly the same amount as the military budgets of every other nation on Earth put together. ... Between 1945 and 2008, the United States was the world's dominant imperial power ... and while that imperial arrangement had plenty of benefits, by and large they flowed in one direction only.."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.4-5
----- On religion and politics -----
"Until the eighteenth century ... the core language of political rhetoric came from religion.
Conservatives argued that the existing structure of society more or less mirrored God's order, or would do so if liberals would only shut up and behave. Liberals argued that the existing structure of society was moving toward a more perfect reflection of God's order, and would get there more quickly if conservatives would only stop dragging their heels. Radicals on both ends of the spectrum argued that the existing structure of society was in utter conflict with God's order, and had to be terminated with extreme prejudice (along with liberals and conservatives) so that a new and perfect world could come into being."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.23
----- On the parallels between exploiting other countries (here-and-now) vs exploiting past eons of time (e.g. tapping fossil fuels) -----
"Where an empire extracts wealth from other countries for the benefit of an imperial nation, fossil fuel exploitation extracts wealth ... from the distant past for the benefit of one or more nations in the present. The parallels are remarkably precise. An empire is profitable for an imperial nation because that nation's citizens don't have to produce the wealth that comes from foreign colonies and subject nations; they simply have to take it, either by force or by unbalanced systems of exchange backed by the threat of force. In the same way, fossil fuel extraction is so profitable because nobody nowadays has to invest their own labor and resources to grow and harvest prehistoric trees or extinct sea life, or to concentrate the resulting biomass into coal, oil, and natural gas, Equally ... empires go under when the wealth pump drives colonies and subject nations into poverty [and there is not more wealth to extract from them], just as fossil fuels become problematic when sustained extraction depletes them. In both cases, it's a matter of drawing down a nonrenewable resource, and that leads to trouble."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.50
----- On "the lack of concentrated power" (e.g. "conspiracies") as the greatest problem in the US today -----
"The further from the mainstream you go, the more strident the voices you'll hear insisting that some small group or other has seized absolute power over the US political system and is running things for the own advantage.
Whether it's Occupy Wall Street talking about the nefarious 1 percent, or the Tea Party talking about the equally nefarious liberal elite, the conviction that power has been concentrated in the wrong hands is ubiquitous in today's America.
there is a alternative description ... It suggest that the political system is lurching forward like a driverless car along a trajectory set by the outdated policies of an earlier time, and that just now, nobody is behind the wheel at all.
the ability to plunder one corner of ta complex system is not the same thing as the ability to control the whole system, and the freedom with which so many people pillage the institutions they're supposed to be managing could as well be understood as sign that there's no center of power willing or able to defend the core intests of the US empire agains death by financial haemorrhage."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.85-86
----- On public dissatisfaction simmering for a long time before exploding (think of the Arab spring, the dissolution of the Soviet empire etc.) -----
"the implosion of a system of government normally follows many years of bad decisions and unheeded warnings ... it's actually quite rare for anyone to catch on to what's building in advance.
It's all to common ... to lose track of the fact that ... power depends on the willingness of a great many people outside the political class to do what they're told.
In today's America ... it's not the crisply dressed executives, politicians, and bureaucrats who officially hold power who have the capacity to enforce that power in a crisis; it's the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police officers and Homeland Security personnel, who are by and large poorly paid, poorly treated, and poorly equipped, and who have not necessarily been given convincing reasons to support the interests of a political class that most of the privately despise, against the interests of the classes to which they themselves belong. Such doubts and dissatisfactions can build for a long time before the crisis hits."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.99-100
----- On official statistics being manipulated -----
"It's quite possible that as we move further past the peak of conventional petroleum production ... Even more elaborate towers of hallucinatory wealth ... project the illusion of a thriving economy onto a society in free-fall
Meanwhile a growing fraction of the population will be forced to drop out of the official economy altogether, and be left to scrape together whatever sort of living they can in some updated equivalent of the Hoovervilles and tarpaper shacks of the 1930s. No doubt the glossy magazines ... will hail declines in petroleum demand as a sign that some golden age of green technology is at hand, and trot out a flurry of anecdotes to prove it."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.114-115
----- On the spectre of industrialism unraveling -----
"For decades now, profits from the financial industry and speculation have eclipsed profits from the manufacture of goods - before the 2008 crash, it bears remembering, General Motors made far more profit from its financing arm than it did from building cars - and the reshaping of the economy seems to be approaching its logical endpoint, the point at which it's not longer profitable for the industrial economy to make anything at all.
the rising cost of fossil fuels and other inputs needed to run an industrial economy will sooner or later collide with the declining cost of labor in an impoverished and overcrowded society. As we get closer to that point, we may begin to see the entire industrial project unravel, as the profits needed to make industrialism make sense dry up.
with limitless quantitative easing ... there's plenty of money available to lend - but loans aren't being made, and the reason given by bank after bank is that next to nobody who wants to borrow money has a credible plan that will allow them to pay it back."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.120-122
"While other economic arrangements [than Business As Usual] are certainly imaginable, the one we have right now is strictly limited in what it can accomplish by what can make a profit ... There are ... any number of plans for grand projects in response to the end of the age of cheap abundant energy; each them would require the investment of a great deal of capital, labor, raw material, and other resources; and under present arrangements, none of them can go forward unless someone can count on making a profit from making them happen."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.127
----- On education and democracy in the United States -----
"of course we have an educational system in the United States. More precisely, we have two of them: a public school system that reliably provides some of the worst education in the industrial world, and a higher education industry that provides little more than job training - and these days it's usually training for jobs that don't exit. You can easily pass through both systems with good grades, and never learn how to work through an argument to see if it makes sense or check the credentials of a purported fact. That's a problem for a galaxy of reasons [and] it's a matter of historical record that democratic politics work only when the people who have the right to vote - however large or small that class happens to be - get an education in the basic skills of thinking."Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.200-201
----- On fooling ourselves instead of admitting our mistakes and on throwing bad money after good -----
"Social psychologists have written at length about ... the process by which people convince themselves to throw bad money after good, or to remain committed to a belief system even though all available evidence demonstrates that it isn't true and doesn't work. The critical factor in such cases is the emotional cost of admitting that [it] was in fact a mistake. The more painful it is to make that admission, the more forcefully most people will turn away from the necessity to do so, and ... to insist to themselves that the mistake wasn't a mistake after all
As the decline accelerates, anyone who offers Americans a narrative that allows them to pretend they'll get the shiny new future that our national mythology promises them will be able to count on a large and enthusiastic audience. The narratives being marketed for this purpose need not be convincing ... So long as they make it possible for Americans to maintain the fiction of a bright future ... they'll be popular.
sooner or later, our collective conversation will shift from how America can maintain perpetual growth to how America can hold onto what it has, then to how America can recover some of that it lost, and from there to figuring out how America ... can get by in the harsh new world that grew up around it while nobody was looking. It's a normal process in an age of decline"Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.213-214
----- On the effects of peak oil on the largesse that the welfare societies have provided -----
"the welfare states of the late twentieth century were the product of a vast but temporary abundance of energy and the products of energy; they did not exist before that glut of energy arrived, and it's thus a safe bet that they won't exist after the glut is gone.
In the time of limits ahead of us, no country on earth will be able to afford a welfare state of the kind that was common in industrial societies over the last century or so. ... National economies powered by diffuse renewable energy sources, bound by strict ecological limits, and coping with the instabilities of a damaged planetary biosphere simply won't be able to produce the surplus wealth needed to make that a possibility,"Greer, J. M. (2014). Decline and fall. New Society Publishers, pp.254-255
----- On (not) discussing collapse -----
"Collapse is a socially awkward subject. ...For certain specialists - scientists, engineers and, more recently, those working in finance - collapse is fast becoming the elephant in the room.
They ... agree that dwelling on the topic of collapse is not conducive to furthering their careers. Those who do mention it tend to leaven their utterances with phrases such as "unless we," or "we must" - making sure to recast collapse as something that is either preventable or avoidable. About the only people who are capable of discussion collapse unguardedly, without looking over their shoulders, are retried specialist and tenured faculty, and the latter only if their research is not dependent on grants. At he opposite extreme are those who have discovered that collapse is a growing market niche and cater to it with all manner of products and services, from survivalist bunkers and equipment to wilderness survival training to books that promote financial instruments to hedge against collapse."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.1-2.
----- On collapse happening here and now -----
"Entire countries, such as Greece, are finding themselves in the throes of what can quite uncontroversially be labeled as financial, commercial and political collapse: there are runs on banks as people try to cash out and expatriate their savings; pharmacies run out of medicines and many other imports run short; nationally elected officials are replaces with political appointees whose candidacies are vetted by the country's creditors. In other countries, such as the United States, such effects are not yet felt, but many people are nevertheless starting to recognize that their future will not resemble the past: younger people realize that their college degrees will not lead to a career or even to a good, permanent job; older people realize that they will not be supported in retirement; long-term unemployed people realize that their careers have ended prematurely."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.9-10.
----- On the difficulty of making predictions about the future *or* about the past -----
"making predictions about the past is just as difficult [as making predictions about the future]. The USSR collapse unexpectedly in 1991, taking the "experts" by surprise. The root cause of the collapse remain veiled in mystery; the reason for the exact timing remains a complete mystery. Expert Kremlinologists were geared up to bet on minor power shift within the Politburo, expert economists were entirely convinced about the superiority of free-market capitalism over a planned socialist economy, expert military strategists could debate the merits of the Strategic Defense Initiative (there aren't any), but they were all blindsided when the whole Soviet thing just folded up and blew away."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.12-13.
----- On the dismantlement the extended family -----
"In the social order that prevails in the economically developed countries, economic relationships within the family have been under-emphasized. Most of the services that families formerly provided for themselves and their neighbors, on an informal basis, have been professionalized: everything from child care to elderly care is done by underpaid strangers at great private and public expense. Nothing has been spared in the dismantlement of the extended family: each individual or, at most, each married couple has a separate bank account and little, if any, property is held in common. The ideal toward which we all strive forces each person to function as a lonely, helpless individual at the mercy of an impersonal system. The trend is to have a financial mediator inserted into every transaction. No matter how intimate or personal or innate the behavior - be it sleeping with your spouse or breast-feeding your infant - we now have a wide range of professionals to advise us, but only after charging your credit card."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.39.
----- On the merits of old age when it comes to leadership (but perhaps not as much in modern societies) -----
"Old people often make better candidates for positions of authority than the young. They are less self-interested and less easily corrupted, because opportunities for self-gratification and wicked temptations become fewer and farther between as we age. Old people are cautions, by virtue of the fact that they are still alive (the incautious tend to die young). They care more about the future (their grandchildren) and their legacy (what their grandchildren stand to inherit) than about anything else. They may also be wise, but wisdom is entirely optional: what is important is that they lack certain youthful qualities that can make leadership lethal: drive and ambition, reckless abandon, impulsiveness, competitive zeal and an illusion of personal immortality. When it comes to leadership qualities, the best teacher is not experience; it is attrition. Ninety percent of leadership is showing up - once you have survived long enough to become an elder, with your health and your reputation intact. Of course, in a society that worships youth, where old people try to "keep up" with the young and almost everyone survives, randomly, through no merit or fault of their own, and gets to try and try again even after the fail decisively, death and failure lose their didactic value."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.41.
----- On the evils of money -----
"Disagreements over money have ruined more friendships and marriages than any other kind. Crime follows money like a shadow. The more money there is within a society, the grater are its social inequalities. Financialization dehumanizes human relationships by reducing them to a question of numbers printed on pieces of paper, and a blind calculus for manipulating these numbers mechanically ... Money is, in short, a socially toxic substance.
Lack of money makes certain things very difficult. Examples include gambling, loan sharking, extortion, bribery and fraud. It also makes it more difficult to hoard wealth, or to extract it from a community and ship it somewhere else in a conveniently compact form. When we use money, we cede power to those who create money ... We also empower the ranks of people whose expertise lies in the manipulation of arbitrary rules and arithmetic abstractions rather than in engaging directly with the physical world."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.52-53.
----- On central banking as a religious cult -----
"Viewed as a religious cult, modern finance revolves around the miracle of the spontaneous generation of money in a set of rituals performed by the high priests of central banking. People hang on the high priests' every word, attempting to divine the secret meaning behind their cryptic utterances. Their interventions before the unknowable deity of global finance assure them of economic recovery and continued prosperity, just as a shaman's rain dance guarantees rain or a ritual sacrifice atop a Mayan pyramid once promised a bountiful harvest of maize. All such ritual derive their effectiveness from one key requirement: that the thing they promise to deliver happens in any case, and does so regularly enough to make the oracles' failure to deliver the exception rather than the rule."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.61.
----- On efficiency as a vice -----
"Efficient systems tend to be more highly optimized for a given set of uses or conditions, making them more fragile and less resilient. Every step in an optimization process makes a system more highly adapted to its specific circumstances, in turn making it not just less efficient buy altogether not functional once these circumstances change. Resilient systems operate nowhere near their maximum capacity, are insensitive to quality and quantity of inputs and are not highly specialized.
In our relentless pursuit of efficiency we make our world more fragile. By prizing all that is optimal, advanced and specialized, we sink our resources into evolutionary dead ends. ... Examples ... can be seen all around us, because efficiency and specialization convey status while resiliency, universality, simplicity and robustness are seen as unfashionable and ignored."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.80-81.
----- On the choices we do have and the choices we don't -----
"each new attempt at goosing up the economy by printing money expands debt faster than it expands the economy. The government of the United States, along with all the other governments that are tethered to it financially and politically, now have but one choice to make. They have no choice over whether to sink into a morass of unrepayable sovereign debt, but they can still decide whether to do so quickly or slowly."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.166.
----- On the effects of liquid jobs and capital -----
"The heyday of this era was in the 1950s, when an assembly-line autoworker in Detroit was able to earn enough to afford a house and a car, raise a family and then retire comfortably. That era is now over. The new era is one of permanently high unemployment, stagnant or declining wages, eroding workers' rights and economic insecurity. Jobs now move swiftly from one low-wage country to another. Just as consumers grew accustomed to poor-quality customer service from call centers in India, the call centers moved to the Philippines, and the quality of the service went down another notch or two. But the consumers have no choice: since the jobs have moved away from their own communities, first to India, then to the Philippines, they cannot afford to pay for better quality. The winners - for the time being - are the holders of capital, who can surf on a wave of destruction as it crests in one country after another; today the US and Europe, tomorrow China, India and Brazil."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.176-177.
----- On ubiquitous surveillance and automated responses -----
"In confronting the powerful, the need for secrecy is strengthened by the fact that ... the game of shifting those in power from their positions is best played covertly; it is advantageous to make game-changing events appear as accidents or coincidences, spontaneous rather than organized, and difficult to pin on anyone. Since a scapegoat is always found anyway, it is also advantageous if there isn't any identifiable organization with which it can be associated. Where an organization is required, it is best if it is transitory, fluid and anarchic in nature, and appears to be ineffectually engaged in some trivial, innocuous pursuit. ... In previous, less networked eras, the work of the secret police was challenging and labor-intensive, but the internet has changed all that. Anything you say on the Internet, whether in a private email, an unpublished document or posted to a blog, can now be used as evidence against you, or anyone else.
All of this information can be continually monitored and analyzed without human intervention, raising red flags whenever some ominous pattern begins to emerge. We are not quite there yet, but as some point somebody might accidentally get blasted to bits by a drone strike while texting when a wrong T9 predictive text autocompletion triggers a particularly deadly keyword match."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.181-183.
----- On the lack of safety nets for whole societies -----
"Almost everywhere in the world societies are fracturing along class lines.
Having a different set of values and expectations enables poor people in poor countries to lead leisurely, social, rich lives in conditions much worse than those that cause rich people in rich countries to lead exhausting, sleep-deprived, lonely, poor lives. As everyone becomes progressively poorer, the people in rich countries have much more to learn from the rest of the world than the other way around.
All of the coping mechanisms that exist to deal with societal failure are designed to treat it as the exception rather than the norm; there is no safety net designed to catch entire societies as they fall. ... Few places are likely to reamin sufficiently insular to escape the onslaught of internationally displaced groups driven from their land by a variety of forces, from political unrest to economic dislocation caused by globalization to habitat destruction created by rapid climate change."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.196.
----- On religion and faith vs science -----
"Getting back to what religious faith might be, to us non-specialists, the various creation myths, be they religious or scientific, are just different stories, accepted on faith, without proof or evidence. ... Religious belief offers us a connection.
The Large Hadron Collider which discovered the Higgs boson (nicknamed "the God particle") is an awe-inspring scientific experiment; it is also a nine-billion-dollar, seven-mile-long tunnel to nowhere. There are much cheaper ways to inspire awe, while giving people a role to play at the same time"Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.205-206.
----- On scaling back development to live within our means -----
"There is a widespread tendency to obsess about development - cultural, scientific, economic, social - and to ignore the unpleasant reality that all such development places a burden on the natural environment that has already gone far past unsustainable. But there is a certain lack of willingness to discuss just how far we can scale back on development in order to secure a better chance of biological survival for our progeny.
Development requires plentiful natural resources - ecosystem resources such as fresh water and food, natural resources such as fossil fuels and minerals - and these are all becoming increasingly scarce."Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.228.
----- On protheses and amputations (vintage Orlov rant) -----
"An ability which is not exercised tends to atrophy, and, not surprisingly, the ability to read and write has had a very significant deleterious effect on people's ability to remember. Calculators and computer produce a similar effect on the ability to do mental arithmetic. Extensive use of spell checkers has largely erased people's ability to write without the aid of a computer. The ease with which information can be retrieved by search engines has reduced the amount of information people retain. The pattern is always the same: Start walking with a crutch - develop a limp. A second deleterious effect of literacy is that it causes the amount of information to expand in wild profusion, without causing an increase in knowledge, because the people who have access to this information remember less and less of it.
Tribes that choose not to emphasize literacy and favor diligently maintaining an oral tradition realize many advantages. A system of justice based on a verbally transmitted codex and case law automatically limits the size of the legal system. Ignorance of a law, once it becomes sufficiently widespread, does become a valid excuse, and laws are discarded once they become sufficiently obscure. ... When they enter into agreements, contracts or treaties, these are not committed to paper, making it easier to quietly cancel them once they outlive their usefulness"Orlov, D. (2013). The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, p.236-237.
----- On reframing social problems as personal inadequacies -----
"A ... reframing of collective problems as individual inadequacy, driven by a[n] unwillingness to face a pervasive but unmentionable social reality, plays a massive role in today's industrial societies. Throughout Europe, North America, and the developed nations of East Asia, hundreds of millions of people who grew up expecting steady improvements in standards of living, upward mobility, and a social safety net to protect them against the threat of poverty find themselves struggling to cope with an economic and political reality that more and more often fails to provide these things. Year after year, more former workers join the ranks of the permanently jobless; outside the narrowing circle of the very rich, wages and benefits shrink; costs of energy, food, and other necessities ratchet upwards; governments struggle to pay for public services that were amply funded ten or twenty years ago. Such markers of systemic crisis is everywhere... these problems are redefined in personal terms, as a lack of appropriate skills or sufficient motivation on the part of the individuals.
To insist that the jobless could find jobs if only they got the right training, or that the poor would not be poor if they would simply work harder and save more, is to insist that human agency trumps the realities of a contracting economy."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.2-4.
----- On progress as a story and as a secular religion -----
"the story of progress: the belief that all human history is a linear trajectory that has risen up from the squalor and misery of the prehistoric past through ever-ascending stages of increased knowledge, prosperity, enlightenment, and technological sophistication, and will inevitably continue to do so into a limitless future. ... In its most overtly mythic form, at the hands of ... popularizers of science ... the narrative of progress becomes very nearly theological in tone, a grand vision of origins and destiny that traces the journey of humanity from the caves to the stars.
the myth of progress [is] looking in two directions - first, towards an imagined past of primitive squalor and misery that is portrayed as much worse than even the most difficult parts of the present, and, second, towards a imagined future of endless betterment in which all of today's sufferings and injustices will turn out ot have been necessary steps on the path towards humanity's glorious destiny. The pervasive and passionate belief in the goodness and inevitability of progress underlies a great many otherwise confusing phenomena in contemporary life, and the blindness to the imminent threat of peak oil ... is among the most striking of these."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.30-32.
----- On stasis rather than progress as the norm in human societies (before the industrial revolution) -----
"A strong case can be made, in fact, that relative technological stasis was far more evident than any noticeable progressive trend over the millennia from the emergence of the first urban societies to the coming of the industrial revolution. It is worth noting, for example, the extent to which the lives of ordinary people - priests, soldiers, and farmers - in the France of Louis XIV were comparable to those of equivalent people in the Egypt of Ramses II, three thousand years earlier. In both nations, and in every other relatively complex society across the centuries that separated them, human and animal muscle provided most of the available energy for economic activity, supplemented with small amounts of additional energy from renewables such as wind and water. The hard limits imposed by these energy sources restricted economic surpluses to a tiny fraction of what is standard in today's industrial societies"Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.38-39.
----- On upsetting ideas; the death of God and peak oil -----
"Peak oil ... poses ... a challenge to the religion of progress. If, as seems increasingly likely, petroleum turns out to be the most abundant, convenient, and concentrated energy source our species will ever know, and all the future human societies will have to make do with less lavish energy sources, then progress as we have known it will end in our lifetimes. Not since Nietzsche announced the death of God has a proclamation so unpalatable disturbed the modern world
rising energy costs, economic contraction, and social dysfunction carry the unwelcome news into the marketplace of modernity, and it has so far proven tolerably easy for most people in the industrial world either to ignore their message or to reinterpret it in terms more congenial to the myth of progress and other contemporary habits of thought."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.48-49.
----- On cognitive dissonance -----
"Baffling though it may seem at first sight ... denial of the obvious is in fact a very common response to the failure of a belief system to make accurate predictions about the world of observable fact. The response becomes intuitively comprehensible once it is remembered that publicly admitting to an error of judgment is a painful act for most people, and the more costly the error in financial, social, or psychological terms, the more painful the admission will be. If admitting a mistake requires severe personal humiliation, the abandonment of values that are central to the personality ... then the temptation can be strong to deny that the mistake was a mistake. ... The general term for the pattern of internal conflict that drives such non-rational but profoundly human behaviour patterns is cognitive dissonance
Societies, like individuals, make material investments in a variety of projects and tend to make comparable emotional investments in those same projects. Even when a project of this kind has failed according to every objective criterion, a society will quite commonly continue to pursue it, even when this requires the diversion of scarce resources from objectively more important tasks."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.57-59.
----- On the double bind of peak oil -----
"Many more examples of the collective double bind in action could be described here. The point ... however, is that the end of the age of cheap abundant fossil fuels makes a conflict of this same kind very nearly inevitable. The first injunction of the double bind imposed by peak oil is the overt and constantly verbalized insistence that progress, defined specifically in terms of those directions in which contemporary industrial society can be portrayed to have advanced in the recent past, is as inevitable as it is beneficial.
The second injunction is the covert and unspoken realization, on the part of a growing number of people in the industrial world, that the last decade or so of change resembles regression and decline far more than it does any meaningful sense of the word "progress", and that the future shows every sign of delivering much more of the same.
The third ... is provided by the emotional toll entailed in letting go of three centuries of triumphant ideology that defined the people of the world's industrial nations as the cutting edge of human history and thus excused radically unequal distributions of wealth among nations ... To question ... progress is to abandon a core source of meaning and justification in modern life, one that is heavily supported by a galaxy of influential institutions as well as by a widespread popular consensus."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.70-71.
----- On modern societies doing the exact opposite of what is needed today -----
"If ... three centuries of rapid technological progress are coming to an end in our lifetimes, as a result of peak oil and a range of parallel conflicts between the ideology of perpetual growth and the hard limits of a finite planet, many of the choices the world's industrial societies are making today are hopelessly misguided. It is fair to say, in fact, that any society willing to face the end of an age of cheap abundant energy and technological acceleration in a reasoned way would deal with its future in a manner precisely opposite to the way we are currently dealing with ours.
Instead of extracting fossil fuels from the ground as quickly as possible in a futile attempt to keep the price of energy down, for example, a sane society would arguably take effective steps to decrease its use of fossil fuels, and thus leave them in the grund for as long as possible; letting prices rise in response to market pressures would be a logical way to foster that decrease. Instead of squandering its remaining resources and time on long-shot technological gambles to keep the illusion of progress going, in turn, such a society would be well advised to inventory its existing knowledge base and technical resources with an eye to those things that could make it possible to support humane and decent lifestyles for as many people as possible on a shrinking energy budget."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.71-72.
----- Every society needs it deviants -----
"individuals can normally be found who are willing to adopt the deviant identity as their own. Any number of reasons can lead people to embrace a role of this kind; there are those who react against a society's real or imagined faults, for instance, by taking on whatever oppositional stance the society offers them; there are those who are pressed into a deviant role by the expectations of parents, teachers, or other authority figures; there are also those whose sense of self is sufficiently weak that the thought of adopting a clearly defined identity, even a despised or condemned one, is a potent lure. Since societies need their deviants to define themselves, and to explore alternatives options without committing themselves in advance, it is by no means uncommon for covert means to be found to encourage deviance and to reward deviants for their misbehaviour ... so they can ... carry out their assigned function of defining what good citizens are not."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.81.
----- Peak oil as an unmentionable issue -----
"the longer a nation has been extracting oil from its territory, the more expensive it will be on average to find and develop new oil fields. ... Thus, in a nation with oil reserves, a greater fraction of the nation's total output of goods and services must be used to extract the same amount of oil. In theory, countries that produce oil for export can pass on these additional costs to their customers; in practice, when the price of oil rises too high, the global economy tips into crisis, and demand for petroleum products drops as consumers struggle to pay their energy bills. The result is a "wealth crunch" that spreads through every corner of the global economy.
As long as peak oil remains an unmentionable issue, though, it will be impossible for economists or anyone else to factor the rising costs of peak oil into their forecasts - and until this is done, attempts to remedy the current economic mess will almost certainly fall."Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.104-105.
----- On abandoning the myth of progress as a grieving process -----
"As the impact of peak oil and other forms of resource depletion on the world's industrial economies continues and deepens, a growing number of people will find it impossible to square the implicit promise of endless betterment offered by faith in progress with the everyday realities of life in a society experiencing ongoing economic contraction and technological regress. The cognitive dissonance between the belief in progress and the experience of regress will thus no doubt result in some remarkable irrationalities
Eventually, as the myth of progress disproves itself, the great majority of people will be forced to abandon their belief in that myth and pass through a grieving process for a narrative that gave meaning to their lives"Greer, J. M. (2013). Not the Future We Ordered. Karnac Books, p.109.